Via ABC : After 20 years working in Australian fashion, designer Fiona Wood is launching her own label, called Wonderwood.
Putting together her first collection has meant doing everything herself — from design, to patternmaking, to developing a catalogue.
But starting small and focusing on quality has always been part of Ms Wood’s plan.
“I really wanted to focus on well-made garments that are made in Australia, and also support our local industry,” she said.
It is the very opposite of the global fast fashion chains that are sending Australian operators to the wall.
Since December, half a dozen well-known brands have collapsed: the women’s retailers Marcs and David Lawrence; the children’s label Pumpkin Patch; cut-price shoe store Payless Shoes; suit-maker Herringbone; and its stablemate Rhodes and Beckett.
It all adds up to almost 4,000 jobs on the line so far.
Former chief executive of David Jones, now global retail advisor at PwC, Paul Zahra, says that is just the beginning.
“It’s murder on the dancefloor, it’s tough,” he said.
“People are trying to work through the different dynamics that are occurring, and actually work out how do they play in this new world.”
He cautioned that retailers would see further disruption when Amazon and Alibaba arrive in Australia.
“We’re about to see a lot more blood,” he said.
Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, take over market share
Last year, global brands including Zara, H&M and Uniqlo took $600 million out of Australian clothing retail.
Industry consultant Steve Kulmar, from Retail Oasis, said these international brands were hollowing out the middle market.
“This erosion is causing businesses to simply go broke,” he said.
“They haven’t been able to grow, their cost of rent, their cost of staff, their cost of supply has all increased, but their sales line hasn’t.”
Australian brands are also behind in logistics. While the average local fashion retailer sees new stock once a month, Zara has it down to twice a week.
Zara also tracks every garment from the sewing machine to the sales floor.
“Now that logistics is quite magnificent, there isn’t a retailer in Australia that has anything comparable,” Mr Kulmar said.
Mr Zahra said bigger volumes meant global brands were winning on the pricing front too.
“A lot of the product that Marcs and David Lawrence offered was, dare I say it, available in the international retailers at a cheaper price,” he said.
Last year’s late winter and cold spring forced retailers to cut prices to move stock, while 2016 Boxing Day sales have been extended.
But Mr Zahra said shoppers were learning to expect continual discounts.
“Traditional retailers have actually discounted to survive, and to drive growth. It’s certainly not a sustainable strategy,” he said.
“What customers are wanting is lower prices, so if that means discounting then that’s what that means, but it’s best to be setting the price, the right price, front up, and getting the volume.”
Flight to online
There is also the ever-growing competition from online sales to consider.
Mr Kulmar said for many Australian brands it had simply meant a flight to safety.
“Thinking about what’s the safest design to follow, what’s the safest colour to follow. And so what they’re doing is accidentally commoditising their offer,” he said.
“So when they finally bring that product to market it looks the same as the retailer next door — and regretfully it looks the same as the international retailer.”
For women at least, clothes are at their cheapest in almost 30 years.
But designer Ms Wood said cheap fashion came at a cost to consumers, and the environment.
“I hope to encourage consumers to buy less and buy well,” she said.
“That may sound strange coming from someone who wants to sell clothes, but I do believe it’s better to have a small concise wardrobe that you get value out of.”